Festival Fun with Farmer Falgu

Well, this post has started with an alliteration.

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From the 14th to the 16th January of this year, India has been celebrating the Harvest Festival. Called Pongal in Tamil Nadu to mean “brimming with the goodness” to Makara Sankaranthi in many other parts of India, it is an important festival to mark.

India is predominantly agricultural – but this festival is not just for farmers – although Farmer Falgu seems to be having a whale of a time being invited to homes across India.

In TamilNadu where I grew up, the festival has four days with special significance to each day.

The 14th – Bhogi which is the first day of Pongal celebrations is actually the day to mark the end of the previous month. The last day of the OLD before we welcome the NEW. Bhogi prepares the homes and minds of people to welcome the new. Houses are freshly painted, perhaps a wedding is being planned soon and even new pots are bought for the celebration of the festival itself.

In the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, kids get showered with money – well it is a mix of ‘regi-pallu’, flower petals, pieces of sugarcane, coins and jaggery – the quick-witted ones would pick up the coins quickly!


Bhogi is loud with banging of drums and smoky with bonfires across the villages and neighbourhoods. Bhogi is fun as you rifle through old stuff, end up being distracted with memories and then having to rush to finish the cleaning.

pongalday215th Jan 2015 (for this year, as this is based on the Lunar calendar) is the first day of the new month and also the most auspicious month of the year. It is the day of the Pongal celebration.

Wedding halls are filled to capacity with one wedding party leaving as the next one arrives. It marks the harvest, the bounty, without forgetting to give thanks. pongaldayThe entire festival is focussed on giving thanks, first to the Sun and then to Mother Earth and to everything and everyone who helped harvest the bounty. It is a day of joy, music, laughter, good food and good old family time.

16th January is Mattu Pongal where I come from – the day we celebrate the bulls and cows. The bulls are washed, their horns painted, the carts and the ploughs painted. And in the southern most parts of Tamil Nadu, it is also the day of the bull-fight. JALLIKATTU_INJURY_895535gMany lives are lost every year – but the challenge of overpowering a bull never seems to lose its charm to the young men wanting to get the attention of pretty girls in the village. Last year when I was researching stories about sports, I came across a story and retold it here – about Jallikattu – the bullfight. (Not for kids, though).

17th January is Kaanum Pongal – the day of sightseeing, visiting family and friends who do not live near you. Most fair grounds, beaches and cinema are filled with people. It is the day when you relax and have fun outside home, spend your money, see the sights, eat fairground treats and come back home tired and smiling.

pongal greeting 1So many things are symbolic about this festival – the pumpkin flowers that adorn the drawings made with rice flour outside each house, the tall stems of sugarcane stacked in the shops, IMG_0560and tied to the pillars in houses, mango leaves as buntings in most doorways, new pots that line up the market and of course Pongal – the rice-pudding made with jaggery and ghee (clarified butter) with crunchy cashewnuts and juicy raisins.

One last thing though – Pongal celebrations in cinema-mad India (cricket is only after that)  is not complete with a new movie release. And all our movies are muscials. Here is a song you might like. I couldn’t find one with sub-titles. But the visuals will give you an idea about what we do during the festival.



Falgu_2 CoverAnd this year has been extra special with Farmer Falgu in my life. Farmer Falgu has been to Bangalore and to Delhi to celebrate the festival with people  who love him.

Perhaps next year, I could celebrate in London with all Falgu friends.


Here are some great moments of Falgu enjoying the festival. My sincere thanks to Rituparna Ghosh and CuddlesAndReads

Between Two Launches

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Farmer Falgu entered my life two years ago. He was inspired by John Burnigham’s picture books – three of them – all about journeys and unexpected companions during that journey.

I knew there is a story I wanted to tell – about travellers in India. Show the colour and sounds of India in a story about journeys. And Farmer Falgu had a perfect excuse – he wanted peace and quiet. He wanted silence.

In a completely different track, wanting silence and not finding was a theme I had been revisiting many years in a poem – I was in a remote farm during a workshop and I thought it was quiet at night. It wasn’t. I heard insects and birds, animals calling out, the night itself was filled with sounds of life.

I was writing this story on spec. For a publisher who specialized in audio-books. And I thought they’d appreciate music and sounds in the book. So every page had sounds and some opportunity for music.

Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip was written, edited and accepted soon after by the wonderful Karadi Tales from my home-city Chennai. Two years later, here we are with a beautiful book – Farmer Falgu has come to life with Kanika Nair’s illustrations. He is now a farmer from Rajasthan with quiet wisdom and a positive attitude. We now know more about him than when I wrote it. I should thank Kanika and my editorial director Shobha Viswanath for that.

I’ve been writing for many years and once in a while I’ve had events organized by publishers for me. But my books were mostly launched in absentia as I write for publishers around the world. Even the book that was published in the UK was celebrated with a card. Mostly because I didn’t know better 6 years ago. I didn’t realize I could have done a launch party myself, like I did for Balu’s Basket last autumn.

Farmer Falgu is very lucky. He has Karadi Tales behind him. He has Shobha Viswanath for a champion. Shobha loves Farmer Falgu and his stories so much that she had planned a fantabulous launch event.

I was lucky to have been in Chennai for this launch. Right time, right place and a perfect launch for Farmer Falgu.

Firstly, Shobha had chosen a great venue where kids came in droves. Isha Life had the perfect ambience for storytelling – in an Indian summer, stories flowered and blossomed like the white mango flowers of the tree we were sitting under.

Then we had a percussion master for the storytelling. Murali was amazing with all his mini percussion instruments and his drums. He created Farmer Falgu’s world with his myriad of musical instruments. And then we had songs set to music by Viswanath who had less than an evening to come up with a tune and less than 10 minutes to show a novice like me how to perform it with him.
As I watched the programme unfold, I was nervous. I’m a writer. I sit in a study, stare at my computer and write for hours. Then I edit. I read aloud alone and I send it off.

I am an aspiring storyteller. I am slowly starting out and a long way to go before I’d call myself an expert. Definitely an amateur too. While I’ve been away 15 years working and living abroad, Chennai and Bangalore has turned into an oasis of storytelling. And here I am flying around the world to my home-city and finding that I’ve so many things to learn.

While I’m chewing at my nervousness, Shobha landed another surprise. She had invited a leading theatre and movie star Karthik Kumar. He has an impressive array of credentials in theatre and performance and here I was a quiet writer from London who had to perform in front of him.

So can I do what they want me to do? Can I join in? Can I sing? Can I keep the kids occupied? Will I let Shobha down? Most importantly will I let Farmer Falgu down?

I had invited friends and family to the event. Was I going to be the most remembered joke in my circles?

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So there was no time to hesitate. I was the author. I wrote Farmer Falgu’s story. He was popular and I owed it to him to do the best I could. To do more than I had ever attempted to do.

As I stood at the mike, holding a big printed copy of the book, I realized I wasn’t shaking. I normally do in front of a mike. I was more focused on the music on my left, the kids in front of me and the parents (including mine) seated in front of me.

We had the music start us off and then we launched into a song. Admittedly I could have slowed down the song a bit and help the children join in. But as I said, it was the first time for this story to be told and many a lesson to be learnt.

We had song interludes from Viswanath and everyone joined in. We listened to Murali make exquisite music and then Farmer Falgu returned home happy just like the kids in front of us.

But the treat was not over. The kids were all loaded up into a bullock cart specially commissioned for the day and then they set off for a ride in the park just like Farmer Falgu went on a trip. The bullock cart was a big hit.

As the kids returned, we had mums, grandmums and my friends come up to me to say they loved the book. Little girls and boys came up to me to say they liked Farmer Falgu’s story.

Here are some wonderful photos from the event.

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That was the reward. That is the reason a storyteller tells stories – either orally or in written form. For it to make someone happy, to resonate with their own truths.

And you would think the day was over at that point. It wasn’t. The local city column of a national newspaper wanted to interview me and I had to thank Karadi Tales for that too. I did a phone interview with the journalist and in a day or two, there it was in one of the leading newspapers in India.

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Farmer Falgu was welcomed amongst his fans with a lot of fanfare and music. I’m sure he’s going to stay with us and show us his quiet wisdom over the coming months and years.

And now, I am back in London and getting into my daily routine. But Farmer Falgu needs a reception back here in London as well.

So we are celebrating a London Launch on 18th May at 2 pm in Streatham Library in South London. Do not miss the event if you live in London. Farmer Falgu will be visiting and there will be cake too!


Balu’s Basket – the journey

Balu’s Basket is the first book where I’m going on a journey from the germ of an idea to actually marketing the book – of course, all in under two years.

Before this when a book came out, I was naive and inexperienced to do anything about it. Sometimes my books would come out only in some countries and I wasn’t sure what to do on the day of the launch, if I found about it.

This time though, I think I’ve picked up some tricks and tips along the way, I should say, thanks to SCBWI and its wonderful family – where people talk about how they do things so you could learn from them.

So, back to the story that I came to tell.

Balu’s Basket was an idea based on my eternal themes – I keep coming back to grandparents, villages, fruits and Indian motifs. I wrote the first 20 lines and I really liked the shape of the story.

Tulika accepted it early this year and confirmed that it would come out in 2013. Hurrah!

Lucky for me, this year I also had plans to go home to Chennai in India. Guess what? Tulika, my publisher is based in Chennai too. The last time I had been to India was four years ago and I thought this was divine coincidence.

People at Tulika were absolutely amazing to me. Right from the receptionist who said, “You’re Chitra Soundar, I recognised you from your photo.” to the publisher Radhika Menon who gave up her valuable time to talk to me.

Deeya Nair the editor who I’ve been working with, since my first book with Tulika introduced me to the illustrator who was working on my book. Uttara a digital design student and an illustrator was right there in the next room working on my book – giving it finishing touches.


That was fun – I could see her originals – she flipped through them. She is an amazing artist and so young. This was her internship project and what wonderful work she has produced.

When Deeya gave me the original contracts to sign, she remarked that this was the first time a contract was being signed in the office by the author and witnessed by the illustrator. A good first, I’d say.

Then I met with the amazing duo – Aneesha and Pallavi. Aneesha manages marketing for Tulika and she is very positive about Balu’s Basket as she loves my first book too. She is my partner in crime, as we plan marketing across two continents.


Pallavi had literally joined that week, but was no stranger to Tulika. She’s going to spread the Tulika word in the UK and US and gearing up for it.

[Pallavi (far left), Aneesha, Uttara]


So from manuscript to illustrations, the first part of the journey is almost over. While Aneesha plans the book launch in Chennai, here I am planning the book launch here in London.

Here is the sneak preview of the coversBalu's Basket Eng-Tamil F.pmd Balu's Basket Eng-Hindi F.pmd! I love the colours, don’t you?

The first one is the English-Tamil version

and the second one is the English-Hindi version.

And of course, this time I am also doing events in the UK where I will sell all my Indian books.  The full circle – from being a writer to an author to a full-fledged author-machine. I kid myself – I’ve just begun this new aspect of my unknown courage. I have signed up to the book launch, I am telling stories to young children (we all know how intimidating that can be) during autumn and winter of 2013.

And guess what the next book will be out in early 2014 from Karadi Tales and the whole thing will start again. I’m excited. Perhaps this book came out at the right moment of my maturing author life. Perhaps the wind was blowing in the right direction.